Coal stockpiles at power plants have decreased in recent years

Coal stocks at power plants are at lower levels nationally than in recent years, according to data from the Energy Department’s statistic shop.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) said Thursday that power plants in the upper Midwest operated at higher levels during last year’s winter due to the extreme cold and burned a substantial amount of coal.

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Operators are requesting bigger shipments of coal to replenish stockpiles. The EIA said they are asking for shipments “well above” the levels received in 2013.

“Issues with delivery by rail are making it more difficult to ship larger volumes of coal and rebuild stockpiles at coal-fired power plants,” the EIA said Thursday.

“There have also been reductions in operating levels (utilization rates) at plants in several other states as a result of concerns about coal availability. Operators have substituted higher-cost power from other sources, such as natural gas-fired generation, to make up the difference,” the statistic shop added.

It said operators are shutting down certain plants to conserve coal stocks for higher demand but not for good. During lighter seasons, utilities are opting to use non-coal units to conserve coal stocks used during winter months.